Monday, May 9, 2011

Why RSS / Subscribe to Posts is important for your blog

This article explains why an RSS feed is important to bloggers, and some options for making it available.


Previously, I've described how to hide the Subscribe to Posts (atom) link that appears that the bottom of the screen on all Blogger's standard templates.

This is a sensible thing to do, because the link:
  • is ugly, 
  • is hard to find (except for hardened Blogger users who know what they're looking for), and 
  • uses words ("atom") that don't mean much to many readers, especially ones who don't use Blogger.
But providing an RSS feed for your blog is A Very Good Thing to do, and there are many ways of doing it which don't involve that link.


Why is an RSS feed a good thing?

When websites were invented, people found that it took a lot of time to visit all their favourite sites regularly just to check for any changes.   It was frustrating for sites that don't change often.  It was hard to spot changes in big sites.   And web-site owners realised that some people simply wouldn't remember to check back anyway.

A few approaches were created to solve this problem.  One is RSS ("really simple syndication"), which is based on the idea that
  • Websites are set up so that every time they are updated, they "publish a feed" of what's new, and
  • People who are interested in websites use "feed reader" software to check if the sites they are interested in have new material, and
  • Feed aggregator tools sit in the middle and keep track of what websites have published and what sites individual people are interested in what updates they have read so far.
Blogs that are made with Blogger are really just another type of website, so to work with RSS they needed a way to "publish a feed" of new material when posts are added.

The approach that Google originally used for Blogger involves "Atom" format.  The "Subscribe to Posts (atom)" link that appears on the bottom of most Layout and Designer templates is saying
 "Here's a link for your feed-reader to use, in our Atom format".
This works, but as I've said, it's ugly and not so obvious for non-Blogger-users.  The rules used to publish feeds on the internet have developed over time and different ways of organising the data in "feeds" (eg Atom 2.0, XML) have been adopted.  And website publishers have begun to look for more features in their feeds and in the statistics they get about who reads them.

Blogger also has a a Subscription-links gadget, which has buttons to let users subscribe to either your Posts or your Comments.  Recently I've had difficulty with this gadget:   I can add it, but it doesn't actually show up on my blog.   I've reported this via the Something-is-broken section of Blogger Help Forum, but not found a solution.


Alternatives

cute picture of an anthropomorphic rabbit
The simplest alternative to the "Subscribe to posts (atom)" link is to make something else on your website that points to the same place as that link, but looks more obvious.
For example, you could use a cute picture of a rabbit, or even some text like "Follow this blog in RSS".

All you need to do is find the RSS feed address for your blog, and link it to this picture or text.

But although this gives your readers access to your feed, it does nothing for you.


A better alternative is to use a tool like Feedburner.



This takes your blog's "raw" feed and delivers it to subscribers in the format your specify - and also offers a number of other features including tools to
and many more.



Other alternatives?

There are other products that can be used to do similar things.

But Feedburner was purchased by Googe in 2007 (according to Wikipedia), so it's now part of the Google family of products.   Until I find some feature that I need but it doesn't have, I'm not likely to explore other tools, simply because it's often easier to use products from the same toolset. 

Your mileage may vary.  But if you're interested click here to find out about getting started with Feedburner.




Related Articles

Adding an RSS feed icon to your blog

Giving your blog an email subscription option, using Feedburner

How to hide the Subscribe to Posts (atom) link

Finding the RSS feed address for your blog.

Blocking categories of AdSense ads from your blog

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2 comments:

  1. Hi, thanks for the info, very interesting. I use feedburner now.
    Great blog & topics, consider yourself officialy followed :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey really cool site and i have come know lots of things which i have not done for my blog feeds thanks for the post

    ReplyDelete